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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Episcopal Ordination of Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger

In the previous entry, I posted a link to the presbyteral ordination of Fr. Joseph Ratzinger. Having done a little digging on YouTube, I was able to find some rare footage of his episcopal ordination and installation of Archbishop of Munich and Freising. Like the previous entry, this one is five minutes. However, there seems to not be an English translation. It is still a great find, though!

A Rare Treasure

One of my facebook friends posted this rare gem on my page.  Taken from, the video shows a young Deacon Joseph Ratzinger and his brother, Deacon Georg Ratzinger, as they are ordained to the priesthood. 

Here is the link:

While it's only five minutes long, it is still a treasure.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Worship in Spirit and Truth

There are so many angles that one can take from Sunday's Gospel account of the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.    

First and foremost, we can infer from the onset that the woman is an outcast.   She does not draw water from the well early in the morning as was the custom at the time, taking advantage of the coolness of the morning and enjoying the company of the other women who also go to the well at that time.  Rather, she goes to the well at noon, the hottest part of the day.  She goes alone.  It is here where she encounters a young Jewish man.   As St. John notes in his Gospel, Jews and Samaritans have nothing to do with each other, let alone Samaritan women and Jewish men. 

But, this is no ordinary encounter.  This young Jewish man is no ordinary man. He is Jesus, the Son of God.   The Samaritan woman thinks that all Jesus wants is water.  But, he wants more, her faith.  In return, he wants to give her something.  What He offers her is nothing short of eternal life, itself, using the metaphor of water.  Water is essential for life.  Water, in the sacred sense, is also essential for one's spiritual life, as through the waters of Baptism, we become incorporated into the Body of Christ.

As Pope Benedict XVI noted in yesterday's Angelus address:

In the meeting with the Samaritan woman the symbol of water is prominent. It clearly alludes to the sacrament of baptism, the source of new life through faith in the grace of God. This Gospel, in fact -- as I pointed out in the catechesis on Ash Wednesday -- is part of the ancient program of preparation of the catechumens for Christian initiation, which took place in the great Vigil on Easter night. "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give," Jesus says, "will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). This water represents the Holy Spirit, the "gift" par excellence that Jesus has come to bring us from God the Father. Whoever is reborn by the water of the Holy Spirit, that is, baptism, enters into a real relation with God, a filial relation, and can worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23, 24), as Jesus discloses to the Samaritan woman. Thanks to the encounter with Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, man's faith comes to its fulfillment, as an answer to God's revelation.

Much later, in St. John's Gospel account, water plays an integral part in the Apostle's record of the Crucifixion.  At Jesus' death, a Roman soldier pierces the Lord's side, gushing forth blood and water, symbolizing the Eucharist and Baptism.

In his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus, Himself, alludes to the Eucharist when he talks about worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.  Where do we find this perfectly fulfilled?  We find it in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 But, how, some may ask?   Before we can answer that question, a brief history lesson is in order.  When the Ark of the Covenant culminated its journey in Jerusalem, King David met it with great joy and celebration.  He wanted to build a Temple for the Lord, but God would not permit him to do so.  It fell to David's son, Solomon to construct it.  The Temple stood for generations until the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.  Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the resulting exile, the Kingdom of Israel had been divided, with 10 of the tribes staying in the north while Judah and Benjamin remained in what is now known as Judea.  When the Assyrians invaded the northern territories, they pretty much wiped out most of the 10 tribes.  The wealthy and the learned among Israel were taken captive while the poor remained behind.  Then, the Assyrians brought in their own people to mingle with the remaining Israelites.  This brought about the Samaritans.  While the Samriatans were of mixed ancestry, they, for the most part, held on to the faith of Jacob to the point that they built their own Temple, on the mountain referenced by the Samaritan woman during her dialogue with Jesus, even though the Lord had dictated that sacrificial worship could only happen in the Temple in Jerusalem. 

The sacrificial cultic of Ancientn Israel, as preserved by the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem is of great importance to us, as the Church, as these rituals find their ultimate culmination in the supreme Sacrifice of Jesus, the true Lamb of God, on the cross.   The rabbis knew that the blood of lambs and goats was not sufficient atonement; however, they obeyed the ritual because God commanded them to do so.  Little did they know that the blood of these lambs and goats would foreshadow the crucifixion of the Son of God.

Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the time has now come when the faithful will worship God neither in the Temple or on the mountain.  They will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.  This may sound rather enigmatic; however, Jesus is alluding to the fact that He has come to establish a perpetual, everlasting covenant sealed with His own blood.  Such a sacrifice will come in the very near future.  In the meantime, Jesus is preparing the woman for what will come.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass embodies this worship in Spirit and in Truth.  In the Church's liturgy, which is her supreme prayer, she prays to the Father, offering her Divine Spouse, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.  The Eucharist she offers is the oblation of the Lamb of God, the ultimate source of Truth.  To this Sacrifice, we unite ourselves, everything that we are and have, to Jesus and joining our humble offering to His.  It is an exchange of gifts; we offer ourselves to the Father, through Jesus, and, in return, Jesus gives us His very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. 

The woman at the well came to draw water.  However, she received so much more in return.  Jesus, for His part, had a thirst not so much for the water from the cistern, but, rather, for her faith, which He awakened.  Is it not the same with us?   Every time we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is as though we are coming to the well to meet Jesus.  We encounter him in Sacred Scripture.  Then, we encounter Him in a most profound way in the Holy Eucharist where he comes to unite Himself to us.  As the celebrant is lifting up the Sacred Host and the Chalice, we once again look upon Him whom they have pierced.  Once again, blood and water flow from His side.  That is worship in Spirit and in Truth.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ideal Hymn for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (A).

"I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" certainly speaks to the Gospel account of the Woman at the Well. Sadly, I did not get to hear this beautiful hymn during Mass. Instead, we endured "Here I am, Lord", "The Summons" and "Blest Be the Lord."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A disconcerting disonnection

We are now deep into Lent, the Church's most austere season of the liturgical year.  Yet, listening to some of the music used for Mass over the course of these three Lenten weeks, one could not really tell if we were well into this season or still in Ordinary Time.   There seems to me a strong disconnect between the music we use during Mass and the Lenten season.

For me, the biggest disconnect comes in the form of the music resource guides that publishers give to parishes.   These innocuous guides are coordinated and calibrated to the various music books these companies offer.  

So, one would ask, what is the problem?  The problem lies with the suggestions that these publishing houses propose.  For example, for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, not one single piece of music suggested had anything to do with the season, let alone, the Transfiguration.  "I Will Choose Christ", "One Bread, One Body," and "There is a Longing", all from Spirit and Song.  Nothing in these songs had anything to do with Lent in general, nor the Transfiguration in particular.  It was as though, musically, Lent was not being observed.   For the first Sunday of Lent, the selections were just as murky.  Many parishes using this guide probably heard "Eagles' Wings", "Blest be the Lord" and, in Spanish, "Juntos como Hermanos."  The only time the faithful got to hear real Lenten music was when the "Parce Domine" was chanted as incense was being used during the Offertory.

Whatever happened to real hymns such as "The Glory of These 40 Days", "Attende Domine," "Again, We Keep this Solemn Fast", "Parce Domine", "Our Father, We Have Wandered"?  These hymns, some dating back centuries, reinforce the beauty of this penitential season.   For the second Sunday of Lent, certainly, "Tis Good Lord to Be Here" would have been appropriate since it speaks directly to the Transfiguration.

Publishing houses are, lamentably, not the best resource when it comes to planning the music for use in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  It seems to me that there is a strong disconnect between what the publishers suggest and the liturgical season.  It's as though they are interested in promoting their own composers and products as opposed to offering music that is compatible with the season.

Perhaps these publishing houses should read Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42:

Liturgical song
42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).

I would be hard-pressed to believe that song books like "Spirit and Song"  would meet the criteria posed by Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42.   Not only does the book not have any clearly perceptible Lenten music, its content, as a whole, seems to not be in synch with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.   A lot of the music in this particular book is drawn from the Protestant Praise and Worship genre.   This particular genre may work for Protestant services, but, the mixture of pop musical styles and text are just the thing that the Holy Father specifically warns us against using. 

My challenge to parish music directors would be to let go of the publisher's suggestions and, instead, go by the liturgical season and the readings, paying special attention to the antiphons the Church gives us.  After all, in the hierarchy of music for use in the Mass, the antiphons belong to the first order. 

There has to be a strong connection, as the Holy Father notes, between the ars celebrandi and the music.  When we miss that connection, we wind up making things disjointed and we lose the significance and the beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in relation to the appropriate liturgical season.  The dots need to connect.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Setting the Wheels in Motion

It all starts with a visit.   A seprent, Satan, the head of the fallen angels, winds his way into the Garden of Eden.  He spies a lovely young woman alone in the garden and engages her in dialogue.  He tempts her, urging her to taste the forbidden fruit that God had prohibited them from eating.  She willingly agrees and, later on, she shares some of the contraband with her husband.  With that one visit, man falls. 

But, with the Fall comes hope.  Although God punishes Adam, Eve and the serpent, He promises that Someone, born of the seed of a woman, will crush the head of the serpent.

Generations passed.  God made several covenants with Ancient Israel, all leading up to another visit.   An archangel, Gabriel, appears to another young woman, a virgin, who is by herself.  He engages her in conversation.  He addresses her with her full name, "Mary, full of grace."   Gabriel brings her a proposal from God.  He tells Mary that she will conceive and bear a son and name him Jesus.  He explains that He will save His people.   Mary asks how this can be and Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit will overshadow her and thus, the holy offspring will be called the Son of God.   Mary then gives the answer that heaven awaited.  She gives the answer that Eve should have given ages ago.  Mary gives God her unconditional and unreserved "Fiat".  With that "Yes", Mary not only sets the wheels in motion for our salv, ation, but, she begins to undo the damage that the first woman had caused with her disobedience.  With that, Gabriel leaves her.

Today, the Church marks the Solemnity of the Annunciation.  It is interesting that most of the time, this Solemnity falls during the course of the Lent, the Church's penitential season.  While this may seem an odd juxtaposition, it really isn't.  Lent leads us to Eater.    The whole reason why the Incarnation happened, why God became Man and deigned himself to be born of the sinless Virgin is to suffer, die and to rise again, to open the gates of heaven for us.  Jesus' Passion, Death and Ressurection form the Paschal Mystery.

Mary's "Yes" also serves as the embodiment of the words that her Son used to teach us how to pray, the "Our Father."   With her "Yes", Mary conforms her will to the Father's (on earth as it is in heaven).   She takes a leap of faith (give us this day, our daily bread), not knowing where this road will take her, but, trusting completely in God.  Some 33 years later, when her Son endures the suffering of the Passion and Crucifixion, she forgives those who have hurt her Son (as we forgive those who trespass against  us).

A priest friend of mine tells us that salvation history begins with a man, a woman and a tree Adam, Eve and the Tree of Life,.  It culminates with a man, a woman and a tree, Jesus, Mary and the Cross.  However, I also believe that since it all began with a visit between an angelic creature  (albeit, fallen)  and a woman, it was fitting that it should culminate with a visit between an angelic creature and a woman.

An Appropriate Song for Today's Solemnity

Whispers in the Loggia featured this special song on its blog page. "Gabriel's Message", by former Police frontman Sting, beautifully captures the story of the Annunciation. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Remembering a True Pastor

This morning's obituary brought some sad news.  I learned that Fr. Robert Bradley, one of the former pastors of my childhood parish (St. Peter the Apostle, pictured above) had died.  Reading through his obituary brought back many memories of this good and holy priest.

I was in the fifth grade when Fr. Bradley became our pastor.   My first meeting with him left me with some fear and trepidation.  He was a tall and imposing figure clad in a cassock.  He was very by-the-book to the point that I remember an incident where my mom and I had arrived late for Mass (the city bus had broken down) and we got yelled at by him during the course of the liturgy.  I was in tears and my mother was upset.  However, some time after the incident, both of us decided to go back to the parish for Mass.  We got there earlier than usual and were met by Fr. Bradley.    I don't know who was expecting the worst of this encounter, my mom and I, or Fr. Bradley.  He shook our hands and apologized for what had happened and he told us that he was happy to see us back.    From that point on, we resumed our regular spot in the back pew.

Later on, as I got to know Fr. Bradley, I realized that there was more to him than the gruff exterior.  He was a good and holy man who had a particular fondness for cats.  It was amusing to see an orange and white feline scurrying out of the rectory whenever he opened the door and then heaving him yell at it to come back as soon as possible.   He also had a keen appreciation for sacred music.  On many occasions, prior to hearing confessions on Saturday, he would go up the choir loft and play the organ.  His usual repertoire consisted of sacred music (my mom would sometimes quietly sing along).

I worked up the nerve to ask Fr. Bradley if I could serve Mass (after all, other parishes had altar girls).  I remember the look he gave me.  I may as well could have asked him if my pet dog could come visit his cat at the rectory.  He politely declined my request, but, he said that I could help around the sacristy.   My mom and I would get to church early and I would help the sacristan (a man of great patience) clean out candles, set the books in order and do other odd jobs.  I don't know if he meant to, but, Fr. Bradley gave me my first glimpse into the liturgy.   From Fr. Bradley and the sacristan, the kindly Mr. Jordan, I learned what that big red book on the altar was.  I also learned about incense and how it wasn't used to make the whole church smell good.    Both of them also taught me how the Church uses color to define the liturgical seasons.  In short, I think that I probably profited more from these small lessons than anything else.   They helped give a concrete, tangible component to what the good Salesian sisters were teaching me.

Fr. Bradley's departure from St. Peter's came almost at the same time as my graduation from the Salesian school.  I had two reasons to cry my eyes out.  I did not want to leave the safety of the nuns and I did not want Fr. Bradley to leave.  Fr. Bradley saw some irony in all of this.   We both remembered how he made me cry the first time.  Now, the tears were returning because I suppose both of us knew he was not going to come back to the parish.  He said that he would pray for me, especially since he knew that I was going to make the tough transition into the public school system.  I told him that I would pray for him, too.

I regret that as much as I appreciated Fr. Bradley, I never got the chance to thank him and that, we did not keep in touch as, perhaps, we should have.  When my dad told me that Fr. Bradley had died, I felt as though I were 14 again and saying good bye to him at the parish hall.  Now, his departure is permanent.

Fr. Bradley was not a cradle Catholic.  But, as he often told us, there was something about the Church that drew him.  The obituary was right on target about him:

As a high school student, Father Bradley, a lover of music and the organ, fell in love with the liturgy and beliefs of the Catholic Church and was baptized into the faith.

That strong and immense love is what made Fr. Bradley such a great pastor.   True, there were times when he could have been just a tad more "pastoral", but, whatever he did or said was never mean-spirited.  It was always with the intention of trying to help us see things in a different manner.  He was also an excellent homilist and a staunch traditionalist.  Towards the end of his time at the parish, he re-introduced the faithful to the use of the communion rail.

I wonder what Fr. Bradley made of all of the "reform of the reform" work that Pope Benedict XVI has begun.   Had this occurred some 30 years ago, I think that Fr. Bradley would have been at the forefront of things down here in the South Texas hinterland.  Maybe, the parish would have had Mass celebrated in what  we now know as the Extraordinary Form.   In any case, without Fr. Bradley knowing it, or meaning for it, he was ahead of his time, so to speak. 

I pray that Christ, the High Priest, will welcome Fr. Bradley into the joys of the heavenly Jerusalem and that the souls of the many faithful that he guided while on this earth will serve as his merited crown. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Authentic Actuosa Participatio

Back in January, I wrote a little bit about what it means to actively participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (An Unexpected Moment of Privileged Grace).  I based my post on my own particular experience.  Since then, the question has come up again many times down here in the South Texas hinterland about what the Church means by "actuosa participatio".

Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, calls for the full, conscious and active participation of the faithful during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  That is not to say that such "actuosa participatio" did not exist prior to the Second Vatican Council.  Even though there were instances during the Mass where the faithful were engaged in some other devotional prayer or exercise while the priest was celebrating Mass, I believe that the laity did have, for the most part, a very good idea of what was happening at the altar and why they were there.   Furthermore, the hand missals with both the Latin and the vernacular translations of the Mass were widely available to aid the faithful in praying along with the priest and joining their sacrifice to his offering.

Unfortunately, in the 40 or so years since the promulgation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, we seem to have lost the meaning behind authentic "actuosa participatio."  In 2008, I was privileged to hear then-Archbishop Malcolm Ranjinth (now Cardinal Ranjinth) who was, at the time, Secretary to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, talk about just what active participation really means.

In Sacramentum Caritatis No. 38, Pope Benedict XVI pays special attention to what it means to participate actively in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and how ars celebrandi fits into this:

Ars celebrandi
38. In the course of the Synod, there was frequent insistence on the need to avoid any antithesis between the ars celebrandi, the art of proper celebration, and the full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful. The primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio. (114) The ars celebrandi is the fruit of faithful adherence to the liturgical norms in all their richness; indeed, for two thousand years this way of celebrating has sustained the faith life of all believers, called to take part in the celebration as the People of God, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (cf. 1 Pet 2:4-5, 9) (115).

Cardinal Ranjinth takes this section as his launching point, explaining just what the Holy Father means in this particular section:

The Holy Father thus seemed, in the first instance, to indicate the need to adopt an ars celebrandi in order to celebrate well the liturgy, while at the same time insisting on the fact that “full, active and fruitful participation of all the faithful” cannot be realized without that. In other words he seemed to indicate that actuosa participatio [actual participation in the liturgy] could not really happen unless the harmonious, beautiful and orderly celebration of the liturgy was insured. Without a properly understood and effected ars celebrandi, liturgy would probably end up being merely a series of meaningless, chaotic and insipid actions. He affirms this emphatically, when he states that “the primary way to foster the participation of the people of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself. The ars celebrandi is the best way to ensure their actuosa participatio” (ibid).

I used to think that in order for me to actively participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass I had to be engaged in some sort of activity, whether serving as a lector or as an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.  But, that is not the case at all.  I am reminded of a line that John Malkovich uttered in the film "Shadow of the Vampire".  Malkovich plays filmaker F. W. Murneau in this pseudo-documentary of the making of Nosteratu.  Murneau and his crew are in what we now know as the Czech republic filming the picture.  The camera man asks where the extras are.  Murneau points to the villagers eating across the dining room them.  The harried script writer moans, "These people are peasants.  They cannot act."  Murneau replies, "They do not have to act; they have to be."

During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass we are in the presence of God and his Divine Majesty.  We are being.   Actuosa participatio does not mean that we are doing every thing at all times.  Yes, we join in on the prayers and, if possible, the singing; however, sometimes, words are not enough.  Our hearts, our souls and our minds must simply be with God, interiorly uniting our prayers and sacrifices with that of the priest.

Unfortunately, this is not always what people understand active participation to mean, as Cardinal Ranjinth noted in his address:

The pope, in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, defines actuosa participatio as a call to a total assimilation in the very action of Christ the High Priest. It is in no way a call to activism, a misunderstanding that spread widely in the aftermath of Sacrosanctum Concilium. Stated Cardinal Ratzinger: “what does it [active participation] mean...? Unfortunately the word was very quickly misunderstood to mean something external, entailing a need for general activity, as if as many people as possible, as often as possible, should be visibly engaged in action” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2000, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, p. 171).

We know that in many places this led to the amalgamation of the sanctuary with the assembly, the clericalization of the laity and the filling up of the sanctuary with the noisy and distracting presence of a large number of people. One could say that virtually Wall Street moved into the sanctuary. But was that really what the Council Fathers advocated?

Obviously, the answer is a resounding "No", from both Popeo Benedict XVI and Cardinal Ranjinth:

Cardinal Ratzinger does not think so. For him, “the real ‘action’ in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God Himself. This is what is new and distinctive about Christian liturgy: God Himself acts and does what is essential” (ibid, p. 173).
This kind of participation in the very action of Christ, the High Priest, requires from us nothing less than an attitude of being totally absorbed in Him. Says the cardinal “the point is that, ultimately, the difference between the actio Christi and our own action is done away with. There is only one action, which is at the same time His and ours — ours because we have become ‘one body and one spirit ‘with Him” (ibid p. 174).

Active participation, thus, is not a giving way to any activism but an integral and total assimilation into the person of Christ who is truly the High Priest of that eternal and uninterrupted celebration of the heavenly liturgy.

The Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, too, as we know, spoke of this when it defined liturgy further as a foretaste of the “heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims, and in which Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, a minister of the sanctuary and of the true Tabernacle” (cf. Rev. 21:2; Col. 3:1; Heb. 8:2)-(SC 8).

Hence, everything we do should help us to achieve that and that alone is the true meaning of the “participatio”: a taking part in a bigger actio. Participatio itself is, I would say, in this sense, an ars [art] where we ourselves are not the artists; neither do we follow an art taught or handed down to us by others, but allow the Lord to be the artist through us, becoming part of what He does. As far as we are concerned, it is participatio in the order of “esse” — being. All that we do in liturgy makes us achieve that union with the eternal high priest, Christ and His sanctifying offering. The more we become part of the oratio of Christ, His eternal self-offering to God as the expiatory Sacrificial Lamb (Rev. 14:1-5), so much more would it be able to transform us into the Logos and make us experience the redeeming effects of such a transformation.

We need to remember that the real actor in all of this is Christ, the High Priest, as both the Holy Father and the cardinal have eloquently stated.   During the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we stand in the very presence of the Triune God.  We are given a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy.  

In my own experience with authentic "actuosa participatio" I found that I was just as much actively participating in the Mass in the Extraordinary Form even moreso than I had been in the Mass in the Ordinary Form.  Even though I did not quite understand what Father was saying, I united my feeble prayers to his, engaging my heart into the liturgy.  Just because I did not recite all of the prayers, that did not mean that I was participating any less in the Mass.

Since that January evening, I have looked at active participation through a new set of eyes.  Yes, I do enjoy proclaiming the readings and leading in the chanting of the Gospel acclamation, but, I am learning to be just as content with remaining in the pew.  I admit that there are times when I do not sing at Mass (especially when some of the songs have questionable theology or just do not seem to fall under what the Church, through Sacramentum Caritatis No. 42, notes as proper); however, I close my eyes and pray until the music is over.  I am not being a snob; it's just a matter of conscience.  In this case, the particicipation is interior, something that Cardinal Ranjinth notes that is needed:

This sequence requires, as a sine qua non on the part both of the priest and of the faithful, a profoundly reverent, totally concentrated and self-abasing attitude of faith and prayerfulness, as well as a sense of stupor before the great divine mysteries celebrated in the liturgy. The question today is whether we do possess within ourselves such interior dispositions, or whether everything has become a matter of mere intellectualism, routine and a carrying out of a series of ritualistic acts or habits.
Thus, interior disposition is important, for both the celebrant and the faithful alike.  It is something that we have to foster so that our participation in the Mass becomes more authentic.

I do believe that the coming revised translation of the Roman Missal will help a great deal in fostering authentic "actuosa participatio."  We will have to re-learn the Ordinary of the Mass.  Instead of reciting the prayers from memory, we will have to read them and, hopefully, ponder the words that we are praying, thinking about their meaning as we say  them.  Even though, at some point, we will probably commit them to memory, it would also be good to engrave them into our hearts.  As the Lord said in the Gospel, the mouth speaks what is in the heart.

"Actuosa participatio" should do just that.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why Sacred Music matters

For the past several weeks, I have lamented the dearth of Sacred Music here in the South Texas hinterland.   Now that we are in the second week of Lent, that absence is quite acute. 

Sacred music forms an integral part of the Mass as it helps us to delve deeper into the Paschal Mystery and to immerse ourselves in the times and seasons of the Church (in this case Lent).   However, it seems to me that the music publishers don't seem to get this and, instead, choose to promote their own compositions rather than what the Church proposes.

I have been engaged in some rather animated discussions on Facebook about this dearth that exists in the South Texas hinterland.   One of my Facebook friends writes that he chooses music based on the Gospel; however, during this time of Lent, we need to also take this holy season into account.  Furthermore, the quality of the music matters, as Pope Benedict XVI notes in Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 42:

42. In the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. (126) Saint Augustine rightly says in a famous sermon that "the new man sings a new song. Singing is an expression of joy and, if we consider the matter, an expression of love" (127). The People of God assembled for the liturgy sings the praises of God. In the course of her two-thousand-year history, the Church has created, and still creates, music and songs which represent a rich patrimony of faith and love. This heritage must not be lost. Certainly as far as the liturgy is concerned, we cannot say that one song is as good as another. Generic improvisation or the introduction of musical genres which fail to respect the meaning of the liturgy should be avoided. As an element of the liturgy, song should be well integrated into the overall celebration (128). Consequently everything -- texts, music, execution -- ought to correspond to the meaning of the mystery being celebrated, the structure of the rite and the liturgical seasons (129). Finally, while respecting various styles and different and highly praiseworthy traditions, I desire, in accordance with the request advanced by the Synod Fathers, that Gregorian chant be suitably esteemed and employed (130) as the chant proper to the Roman liturgy (131).
What I highlighted in bold red letters serves as solid criteria for judging a song's worthiness for use in the Mass.  A lot of time, parish music directors (and parishes) will go by the suggestions that the publishers make for a given Sunday.  However, many of the suggestions do not take the liturgical seasons into account.  Furthermore, the suggested music is rarely traditional and is drawn from the publishers' composers.  Thus, as I have experienced it, there is a very strong disconnect between the liturgy and the music.

Yesterday, during the homily, the celebrant talked about the apostles being in holy fear as the glory cloud descended upon Jesus, Moses, Elijah and themselves.   The celebrant noted that this kind of holy fear is a good fear to have.  It is, in fact, awe and reverence before God.  He noted that it is the same attitude that we should have when approaching the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.   We need to realize that we are in the presence of the Lord in a very real and concrete way, much as Sts. Peter, James and John were.   We should not be casual about the liturgy.  The celebrant reminded us that God spent considerable time dictating to Moses just how, when, and where He should be worshipped.  Ancient Israel took her cultic sacrificial worship very seriously.  God took it very seriously to the point that any infractions were dealt with severely and swiftly. 

Quality matters.  That is the message that the Holy Father sends the Church in SC No. 42.  About a little over a week ago, the Most Rev. Peter Elliott, an auxiliary bishop for the diocese of Melbourne (Australia) and a former consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, addressed a conference in Oklahoma where he touched upon the same issue.  Bishop Elliot noted that:

Liturgical music should never be “utility music”, that is, music used to prop up worship or function as a teaching device. Just consider the sentimental songs still sung in so many churches, preachy songs that make God speak to us, giving us “messages”, or sacro-pop songs we sing about ourselves. True liturgical singing is addressed mainly to God. And we should always speak with reverence of our God, which is why the Pope has forbidden the use of the sacred Name in Hebrew which crept into singing and readings after the Council.
The music of the Church is the divine praise of the Logos in the cosmos, therefore this unique form of music must never to be left to subjectivist fashions or whims.
26 Music also helps us see that the strong theme of beauty in his writing on liturgy was not mere aestheticism, rather beauty understood as a revelation of the divine Logos, “the harmony of the spheres” echoing the beautiful God of cosmic order and design. He insists that singing, human word and voice, always should take priority over instrumental music. 
Unfortunately, much of what is used in the Mass today falls under the descriptions highlighted in bold, red letters.  Footnote 26 actually comes from the Holy Father's own book, The Spirit of the Liturgy.   What Pope Benedict says in his book (writing as Cardinal Ratzinger) is no different than what he writes as Supreme Pontiff in Sacramentum Caritatis.

It is also the vision that he is setting forth for the Church.  It is, as Fr. Z would say, the Holy Father's "Marshall Plan" and something that should be embraced by dioceses and parishes the world over.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, everything should be in synch.  The dots should connect.  Even if the celebrant were to preside over the Sacred Rites with the utmost care, devotion and reverence, bad music manages to cast a blemish over the liturgy.  That is why what we sing is very important.  That is why Sacred Music matters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Another brilliant hymn for the Second Sunday of Lent

"O Wondrous Type" is another beautiful hymn about the mystery of the Transfiguration. It's really sad that magnificent hymns like this are cast aside in favor of music that sounds either too much like a soft pop radio station or jazz. 

Excellent hymn to mark the Second Sunday of Lent

"Tis Good Lord to be Here" speaks to the Mystery of the Transfiguration, which we mark on the Second Sunday of Lent. Unfortunately, the only sources that I could find are from the Protestant ecclesial communities.

It's still a great hymn.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ite ad Iosephum

Today, the Universal Church celebrates the Solemnity of St. Joseph,  husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   Blessed Pope Piux IX declared the humble carpenter from Nazareth Patron of the Universal Church.  Later on, Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose given name was Giuseppe (Joseph), added the saint's name to the Roman Canon.

It stands to reason that Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed St. Joseph as the Church's patron saint, as St. Joseph vigilantly guarded the young Jesus and His Blessed Mother with great love and devotion.   That same loving vigilance and devotion, the holy patriarch now shows to the Church founded by his foster Son.

Of all of the individuals named in the Gospels, St. Joseph is the only one who remains silent.  He is not a man of words; he is a man of action.  The just man who showed great concern for the young Mary when she was found with child, he pondered whether or not to put her away quietly.  However, like his Old Testament namesake, Joseph received his direction through dreams.  In this case, an angel of the Lord told him to not have any misgivings about taking Mary as his wife.  Joseph wasted no time in heeding the angel's message, as it was from God.  Then, after Jesus' birth, Joseph received another dream, telling him to take the Christ child and His Mother to Egypt as King Herod sought to kill the baby.  Again, Joseph heeded the message and led the family to safety.   Joseph's actions mirror what two of the Old Testament partriarchs did.   Abraham left the safety and security of Ur of the Chaldeans at God's behest, going on faith.  It was that same faith that saw Abraham through many difficulties.   The second Old Testament figure, Joseph, the second youngest son of Jacob, went to Egypt, but, by force, having been sold into slavery by his older brothers.  But, through God's providential will, the evil that Joseph's brothers had committed wound up being their salvation, as it was Joseph who would wind up rescuing his family from famine. 

When Herod died, the angel once again appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that it was safe to return to Israel.   However, Joseph chose to return to Nazareth, leading his family to a peaceful, normal existence.  The last time Sacred Scripture records Joseph is during St. Luke's Gospel account of the finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.  After Jesus is found in the Temple, He submits Himself to the authority of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. 

As brief as these Gospel accounts are, they give us an important insight into who St. Joseph is and why he matters.  He is that trusted steward who faithfully cares and protects those entrusted to his watch.  Joseph's faithfulness, fidelity and love are qualities that God needed in the man who was to serve as Jesus' foster father.  While Mary gave Jesus unfathomable maternal love and care, Joseph provided his foster Son with fatherly love, guidance and support.   St. Joseph was God's go-to for everything concerning the Holy Family.  Now, he exercises that same care, guidance and vigilance over the Church.

Perhaps it is providential that another Joseph also serves as the guardian and protector of the Church here on earth:  Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. 

Pope Benedict XVI, like his patron, guards the Church with immense love, care and fidelity.  Like his patron, he has been called by God to make difficult moves.  The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had resisted the invitation that the Venerable Pope John Paul II made to lead one of the Congregations in Rome; however, he could not resist a second time when the Polish Pontiff asked him to assume the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  When the time came for the prefect to submit his resignation, as required by Canon Law, to John Paul back in 2002, Ratzinger received a direct response from his superior: the Pontiff simply dismissed the document and asked the cardinal to remain in service.  He obediently stayed at his post until the pope's death. 

On April 19, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger led his brother cardinals into the conclave that would elect John Paul's successor.  He had planned to return to Germany, live in his house in Regensberg and enjoy a quiet retirement with his brother.   However, as was the case with St. Joseph, God had other plans.  Joseph Ratzinger emerged from the conclave with a new title and a new name:  Pope Benedict XVI.   Following the example of his patron, the holy patriarch of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI resigned himself to following God's will in all things, leaving aside his own plans to conform himself to whatever Divine Providence deigned.

I went to Mass today to both mark St. Joseph's feast day and to pray for our Holy Father.  Like St. Joseph, the Holy Father has had much to suffer these six years since that conclave.  But, like St. Joseph, our pontiff has remained steadfast in his faith and firm in his resolve.

If there was ever a time when Pope Benedict XVI needed our prayers, it is now.  If there was ever a time when St. Joseph needed to stand vigilant over the Church it is now.  New Herods have arisen over the horizon, both within and without the Church.

May St. Joseph continue to intercede for the Church founded by his Divine foster Son and may he guide and protect his namesake as he exercises his Petrine ministry.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Scarlett lesson

I never tire of watching Gone With the Wind.  Every time I watch this venerable Hollywood treasure, I pick up different nuances.  One particular item that I caught centered around the way Catholicsm was portrayed in the film.   In the movie, the O'Haras, especially the parents, are devout Catholics.  Early on in the movie, we see the matriarch of the O'Hara clan, Ellen (shown above with her daughter, Scarlett), lead the family in nightly prayer.  And the prayer we watch them recite?  It's the Confiteor.   Here is the text of the prayer:

I confess to Almighty God, to Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, to Blessed Michael the Archangel, to Blessed John the Baptist, to the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, to all the saints and to you, my brethren, that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed:  through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.  Therefore, I bessech the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, the Blessed Michael the Archangel, the Blessed John the Baptist and the Holy Apostles, Peter and Paul, all the sains and you brethren, to pray to the Lord, our God, for me.

Now, while the rest of the O'Hara family (including their slaves) are reciting this prayer, Scarlett continues to plot and scheme her way into Ashley Wilkes' heart, not quite the kind of thing one should be doing during the time reserved to ask God for his mercy.  Nonetheless, this particular scene in Gone With the Wind is a teaching moment of sorts, both about the proper disposition one should have when beseeching God to be merciful and the kind of prayer used.

The Confiteor that the O'Hara family recited was the one that the Church used during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass up until the reforms of Pope Paul VI.   This prayer serves, I believe, a two-fold purpose.  It reminds us of God's covenant mercy, the mercy that he has promised us throughout the covenants He made, beginning with Noah all the way to the perfect covenant sealed with the blood of His Son's sacrifice on the cross.  The second purpose of this prayer is perhaps lesser known and maybe even lesser understood.  When we sin, we not only commit an individual infraction against God, but, a communal one as well.  Sin hurts both our relationship with God and our relationship with the Church.  When we sin, we rupture the communion that we have with God and with his Church.  That is why in this particular Confiteor, names are mentioned.  We ask for the intercession of the Blessed Mary, ever Virgin, St. Michael the Archangel, St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, the whole company of saints and finally, of each other. 

We include this company of saints because, they, too, form part of the Church.  Recall that membership in the Church is not restricted to just the warm bodies occupying the pews.  The saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory are members of the Church as well.   We ask the saints to pray for us and with us, beseeching for God's covenant mercy.

Somehow, when the confiteor was revised in the late 1960s, that communal aspect was lost.  Here is what we currently pray at Mass during the Penitential Rite:

I confess to almighty God,
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have
through my own fault

in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done,
and in what I have failed to do;

and I ask blessed Mary, ever virgin,
all the angels and saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

When the rest of the names were eliminated, I believe that we lost a sense of the beauty of the communal aspect of intercession.  While I have not been able to fully ascertain why Sts. Michael, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul were specifically named in the Confiteor, I have my own theory as to the reasoning.  St. Michael is the Church's traditional defender against the Evil One.  He is the one who does battle against the dragon in the Book of Revelation.  St. John the Baptist preached repentence.  St. Peter's first homily, which he preached on Pentecost, stirred some 3,000 souls into conversion.  St. Paul reminded the early Church about the communal aspect of intercessory prayer.   Removing their names from the Confiteor in the Ordinary Form of the Mass, I believe, tended to water down this powerful intercessory dimension.

Another interesting omission in the current English translation centers around the deletion of the triple mea culpa from the Confiteor.    Someone on one of the Catholic Answers forums wondered why we would make such a fuss over its removal since the individual considered it somewhat of an "overkill."   However, if we were to look inside the Sacred Scriptures, this is not always the case.  Recall the parable that Jesus told about the Pharisee and the publican.  While the Pharisee was engaged in self-glorification, the publican stood off in the back, striking his breast and repeatedly asked God for mercy as he took into account his many offenses. 

The Latin original retains the triple mea culpa, as does just about every other language translation except the English version.  However, that will soon change.  The coming revised English translation of the Roman Missal restores this triple invocation:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned

in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

We acknowledge the greatness of our sins and offenses and we own up to our culpability in these acts as we recite this revised Confiteor.   Perhaps because we've memorized the prayer early on as chlidren, we've seemed to have lost its meaning.  Of course, I believe that its full impact was somewhat lost when the triple mea culpas were removed.   Even though we recite this prayer at every Mass, sometimes I wonder if we have pondered its full meaning, or, if we are like Scarlett, simply saying the words because everyone else is saying them while we think of other things. 

Learning the revised version of the Confiteor, I believe, will help us to concentrate on the prayer that we are saying.  The words should impact us and help us to consider the ugliness of sin, the power of intercessory prayer and the limitless covenant mercy that God offers us, if only we ask with contrite hearts.

Scarlett begins her saga with a half-hearted recitation of the Confiteor.  By the end of the film, she has lost her daughter, two husbands, her sister-in-law, her parents and her one, true love.   She finds repentence, but, it is too late.  However, even if we were to lose everything, we must remember God's covenant mercy and how He waits for us, even though our sins may be as scarlet.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Hymn that Speaks to God's Mercy

This is also another of my favorite Lenten hymns. "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" is a hymn that speaks to the Lord's divine mercy. This hymn would work well throughout Lent, but, I believe that it is most fitting when used with the Gospel account of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The hymn also reminds us that God promises us mercy. It is that same promise that He has made in every covenant, from Noah all the way to that of Christ's perfect oblation on the Cross. At every Mass, during the Penitential Rite, we recall that covenant mercy that God has promised us. We know that we are sinners, but, we trust in the wideness of the Father's mercy.

One of the best English Lenten Hymns

From time to time, I like to post quality Lenten hymns that reflect the solemn dignity of this beautiful season. The hymn "What Wondrous Love Is This" certainly captures that. Sadly, it's a beautiful piece that we rarely get to sing down here in the South Texas hinterland.

More Lenten Music

Parce Domine is one of the finest Lenten hymns around. This version is particularly beautiful and poignant.

Friday, March 11, 2011

My favorite Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross took on a deeper meaning the year my mom died.  I would faithfully show up at my parish in Austin to pray them.  The version that we used was written by the lake Mark Searle.   In fact, I enjoyed them so much that I asked our director of liturgy if I could use them back home.  She graciously agreed.

The station that really affected me was the 14th, in particular, the meditation that Searle wrote:

"Lord, we know the way that leads us, with you, to our Father.  Quiet our troubled hearts when we forget to trust and are buried in our discouragement.  Prepare a special place for the people we love who have died.  Turn our loneliness into joy as we look forward to our reunion with them."
Up until 2005, these were my Stations of choice.  Then came Good Friday 2005.  The Venerable Pope John Paul II had asked the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (who would wind up succeeding him to the Chair of St. Peter as Pope Benedict XVI) to compose that year's meditations for the Stations of the Cross.  I had already admired Cardinal Ratzinger, but, it was not until I read the meditations that he had composed that I learned a lot about the depth of his spirituality.

Praying these particular stations (once the Holy See made them available) was an entirely different experience from what I had previously prayed.   Pope Benedict's meditations go beyond the sentimentality of Searle's version.  In fact, on first reading, they can be jarring.  But, it is precisely because they are jarring that these meditations are both challenging and profound.  His words make us confront our sinfulness head-on, forcing us to take a good, long look at ourselves. 

Let us look at the meditation that he offers for the First Station:

The Judge of the world, who will come again to judge us all, stands there, dishonored and defenseless before the earthly judge. Pilate is not utterly evil. He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him. But his heart is divided. And in the end he lets his own position, his own self-interest, prevail over what is right. Nor are the men who are shouting and demanding the death of Jesus utterly evil. Many of them, on the day of Pentecost, will feel "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37), when Peter will say to them: "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God... you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law" (Acts 2:22ff.). But at that moment they are caught up in the crowd. They are shouting because everyone else is shouting, and they are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting. And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice and fear of the diktat of the ruling mindset. The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd. Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.

How true those words ring, especially today.  We are not immune to being swept up by the tsumani that is the dictatorship of relativism.  We tend to follow the crowd, now knowing where it will lead us.  The former cardinal's words remind us that we have a different standard that we should follow, that set forth by Jesus, Himself.

Consider the meditation that he offers for the Ninth Station, Jesus' third fall:

What can the third fall of Jesus under the Cross say to us? We have considered the fall of man in general, and the falling of many Christians away from Christ and into a godless secularism. Should we not also think of how much Christ suffers in his own Church? How often is the holy sacrament of his Presence abused, how often must he enter empty and evil hearts! How often do we celebrate only ourselves, without even realizing that he is there! How often is his Word twisted and misused! What little faith is present behind so many theories, so many empty words! How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency! What little respect we pay to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where he waits for us, ready to raise us up whenever we fall! All this is present in his Passion. His betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his Body and Blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart. We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison ­ Lord, save us (cf. Mt 8: 25).

I can relate to this particular station.  The Holy Father seems to put into words my own frustrations when it comes to poorly celebrated liturgies.   When I first read this particular meditation, it pierced right through me.  He put into words what I had experienced many times (and, sadly, still continue to experience). 

The prayer Pope Benedict composed for this particular station is a plea of mercy that I believe could be made even apart from the Stations:

Lord, your Church often seems like a boat about to sink, a boat taking in water on every side. In your field we see more weeds than wheat. The soiled garments and face of your Church throw us into confusion. Yet it is we ourselves who have soiled them! It is we who betray you time and time again, after all our lofty words and grand gestures. Have mercy on your Church; within her too, Adam continues to fall. When we fall, we drag you down to earth, and Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall; he hopes that being dragged down in the fall of your Church, you will remain prostrate and overpowered. But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.

It is both a plea for God's mercy and a stinging moment of self-realization.   It's a prayer that compels us to examine our own consciences as we implore God's intervention. 

While I do find comfort in the Station meditations that Mark Searle wrote, the version composed by Pope Benedict XVI help me to take a long and hard look at myself, to examine my failings and to ask God for His mercy.  They force me to confront the things that I have done and the things that I have failed to do.

Here is a link to the Stations of the Cross composed by the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI:

The Way of the Cross by Pope Benedict XVI

Prayer Request for our Japanese brothers and sisters

In this time of great suffering for the people of Japan, let us offer our prayers for this island nation, that the Lord will bring them comfort, healing and strength.

O God, who set the earth on its firm foundation,
spare those who are fearful
and show favor to those who implore you,
so that, with all dangers of earthquake entirely gone,
we may continue to experience your mercy
and serve you in thankfulness,
safe under your protection.
Through our Lord.

Our Lady of Akita, pray for Japan and all in the Pacific rim who are in harm's way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why we mark Lent

It never fails.  Almost every Lent, I get the same question:  why do Catholics make sacrifices during Lent?  Two of my coworkers, whom I love dearly, posed that question today.  They sincerely wanted to know why we observe Lent.  "Is it in the Bible", came one query. 

Actually, there is biblical support for the Church's various liturgical practices.  Perhaps the best person to explain this is no less than the Vicar of Christ, himself, Pope Benedict XVI.  Reading through the magnificent homily that he preached yesterday, I found pretty much all of the answers to the questions that my friends posed.

In this section of the homily, the Holy Father masterfully weaves the biblical references, which form the Liturgy of the Word for Ash Wednesday:

"Return to me with all your heart" (Joel 2:12). In the first reading taken from the Book of the prophet Joel, we have heard these words with which God invited the Jewish people to sincere, not apparent, repentance. It is not about a superficial and transitory conversion but, rather, a spiritual itinerary which has much to do with the attitudes of the conscience and which implies a sincere resolution to repent. The prophet begins with the plague of the invasion of locusts, which fell on the people destroying their crops, to invite them to interior penance, to rend their hearts and not their garments (cf. 2:13).

Hence, it is about putting into practice an attitude of genuine conversion to God -- of return to him -- recognizing his holiness, his power, his majesty. And this conversion is possible because God is rich in mercy and great in love. His is a regenerating mercy, which creates a pure heart in us, renews our interior in a firm spirit, restoring to us the joy of salvation (cf.Psalm 50:14). God, in fact, does not will the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live (cf. Ezekiel 33:11). So the prophet Joel orders, in the name of the Lord, that an appropriate penitential environment be created: It is necessary to blow the trumpet, convoke the meeting, awaken consciences.

Conversion is an on-going process.  It is not a one-and-done deal.  The same challenge that the prophet Joel issued to Ancient Israel rings true in the New Israel, which is the Church.  We need to take a good, hard and long look at ourselves.  Some of us shudder to look at the numbers on the bathroom scale as we weigh ourselves.  It usually is not a pretty sight.  But, it is a reality check that we need in order to get on some sort of a regimen to be healthy. 

Lent is that weigh-in for our souls.  However, unlike the fat that we need to purge, what we need to burn off is sin.  Sin, unchecked, can kill the love of God in our hearts and can do more damage to our souls than the clogged arteries that find their roots in fat.  The fasting that the prophet Joel speaks of is not so much about monitoring our body weight; it is about letting go of whatever can hinder us from God.   Such conversion helps us to respond to God's love as we should.   As Pope Benedict XVI tells us:

The Lenten period proposes to us this liturgical and penitential ambit: a journey of forty days where we can experience in an effective way the merciful love of God. Today the call resounds for us: "Return to me with all your heart"; today we are the ones called to convert our hearts to God, conscious that we cannot carry out our conversion by ourselves, with our own efforts, because it is God who converts us. He offers us once again his forgiveness, inviting us to return to Him to give us a new heart, purified from the evil that oppresses it, to have us take part in his joy. Our world needs to be converted to God; it needs his forgiveness, his love; it needs a new heart.

St. Paul makes the same case for conversion in his letter to the Corinthians.  According to Pope Benedict XVI:

"Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). In the second reading, Saint Paul offers us another element on the path to conversion. The Apostle invites to look away from him and to direct our attention instead to the One who has sent him and to the content of the message he brings: "[s]o we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (Ibid.). An ambassador repeats what he has heard his Lord say and he speaks with the authority and within the limits he has received. He who carries out the office of ambassador must not attract attention to himself, but must place himself at the service of the message he must transmit and of the one who sent him. Saint Paul acts thus when carrying out his ministry of preaching the Word of God and of Apostle of Jesus Christ. He does not shrink in face of the task received, but carries it out with total dedication, inviting us to open ourselves to grace, to allow God to convert us. "Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1).

"Now then, Christ's call to conversion," the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, "continues to resound in the lives of Christians. [...] is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who 'clasping sinners to her bosom, [is]at once holy and always in need of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and renewal' (LG 8). This endeavor of conversion is not just a human work. It is the movement of a 'contrite heart' (Psalm 51:19), drawn and moved by grace (cf. John 6:44; 12:32) to respond to the merciful love of God who loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:10)" (No. 1428).
It reminds me of what St. Augustine once said:  The God who made you without your cooperation cannot save you without it.  God continuously invites us to conversion; however, He does not force Himself on us.  He gave us a free will.  It is our choice.  Lent helps us to make the choice to love God a lot clearer.

Like the prophet Joel's appeal, St. Paul's words to the Church in Corinth certainly ring true today.  They compel us with the same sense of urgency that these words expressed to the Corinthians:

St. Paul speaks to the Christians of Corinth, but through them he intends to address all men. All in fact are in need of the grace of God, to illumine their minds and hearts. And the Apostle adds: "now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians6:2). We can all open ourselves to God's action, to his love; with our evangelical witness, we Christians must be a living message, in fact, in many cases we are the only Gospel that the men of today still read. This is our responsibility, following the steps of Saint Paul, here is another reason to live Lent well: to give witness of a lived faith to a world in difficulty that needs to return to God, which is in need of conversion.

And what of the challenge that Christ gives us in the Gospel account for Ash Wednesday? What are we to make of it.  Again, Pope Benedict offers a solid perspective:

"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them" (Matthew 6:1). In today's Gospel, Jesus repeats the three essential works of piety established in the Mosaic Law. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting characterized the Jews who observed the law. With the passing of time, these prescriptions were stained by the rust of exterior formalism, or they have even been transformed into a sign of superiority.

In these three works of piety Jesus makes evident a common temptation. When something good is done, almost instinctively the desire arises to be esteemed and admired for the good action, to have some satisfaction. And this, on one hand, shuts us in on ourselves, and on the other it takes us out of ourselves, because we live projected to what others think of us and admire in us. In proposing these prescriptions again, the Lord Jesus does not ask for formal respect to a law foreign to man, imposed by a severe lawmaker as a heavy burden, but he invites us to rediscover these three works of piety by living them more profoundly, not for love of self but for love of God, as means on the path of conversion to Him.

Almsgiving, prayer and fasting is the course of the divine pedagogy that supports us, not only in Lent, toward the encounter with the Risen Lord; a path to follow without ostentation, in the certainty that the heavenly Father is able to read and also to see in the secrecy of our hearts.

My two co-workers, as much as I love them, seem to have a confusion about what the "law" is.  Jesus, in the account from St. Matthew, does not condemn the practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Rather, he encouraged them, only in a manner that was sincere and just, in a form that did not call attention to our wonderful selves, but, in a quiet manner that focuses more on love of God and neighbor.

To the words of Jesus, the Holy Father adds:

Dear brothers and sisters, let us begin this Lenten itinerary confident and joyful. Forty days separate us from Easter; this "intense" time of the liturgical year is a propitious time to attend, with greater commitment, to our conversion, to intensify listening to the Word of God, prayer and penance, opening our hearts to the docile acceptance of the divine will, for a more generous practice of mortification, thanks to which we will go more readily to help our needy neighbor: a spiritual itinerary which prepares us to receive the Paschal Mystery.

My parochial vicar said the same thing in yesterday's homily.  Lent prepares us for two occasions, the distant and the proximate.  Lent helps us to get ready for the final judgment.  The disciplines that we practice here on earth, help us to refocus and redirect our hearts towards God.  Where our treasure lies, there is where our hearts are.   In the proximate sense, Lent prepares us to fully enter into the Paschal Mystery that is Holy Week.  It is the time of privileged grace for all Christians.  It is the appropriate time for conversion.

The need to reconcile

One of the worst things that a person can do is to lash out against one's own best friend.  Even if that friend has said some hurtful things, the offended party only adds to the pain by striking back. 

Last Thursday, I was both the offended and, sadly, the offender.  I was angry at my best friend because I did not think that he cared about liturgical integrity and he had said some hurtful things to me.  Rather than take it in, I lashed back about three days later.  It was not my finest moment.  Even though I've already gone to confession about the situation, and I have tried to apologize, I said some really awful things, things that, in hindsight, should never have been said.

Through the years my friend has been tolerant of me.  This is not the first time we've engaged in Godzilla v. Mothra style arguments.  Most of the time, the arguments center around liturgy, even though we tend to be on the same page 99% of the time.  Unfortunately, I have greatly hurt him on numerous occasions, just as he has hurt me.  In this particular case, both of us said things that really did not help the situation.  Sadly, this happened right before Lent.

I have been praying about this ever since Monday.  I was hard on him because he hurt me.  It's the typical reaction I tend to have when someone hurts me.  I suppose it's the typical reaction that anyone has; however, it is not a Christ-like reaction by any means.   What is worse is that I tend to shoot first and ask questions later.  This may work for a John Wayne movie or for Ziva David in NCIS, but, not when dealing with people I love. 

While I was pondering the situation, I was inspired to look at the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II:

Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts
that enemies may speak to each other again,
adversaries may join hands,
and peoples seek to meet together.

By the working of your power
it comes about, O Lord,
that hatred is overcome by love,
revenge gives way to forgiveness,
and discord is changed to mutual respect.
Even though my friend and I are not enemies (at least, I hope not), I think that this prayer certainly applies to our situation.   It is never a good time to argue with someone.  The fact that this whole episode occurred just six days before Lent, the season par excellence of reconcilation, is a really bad way to begin this holy time of the year.

In my case, I do not have the right to my friend's forgiveness, but, I have already forgiven him.  Maybe God allows arguments like this to happen, especially during this time, to help us to see what reconciliation truly means.  I do not know if my friend and I will speak again.  I hope we can because he has been a blessing to me in more ways than he will ever know.    I can only pray and make the preface prayer my own.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not for the dour

My friends know that I am a huge fan of makeup.  The fact is that I own a huge stash of products from several makeup lines.   It's one of my vices.

Last night, while I was preparing my wardrobe for today, I wondered if I should look dour, with little to no makeup, and wear somber clothes.  After all, this is Lent.  However, reading today's Gospel account made me think otherwise.

[16] And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. [17] But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; [18] That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee.
Lent is a solemn liturgical season.  The Church reminds us that we need to practice penance, make sacrifices and devote ourselves to prayer.  However, even in this season of penance, there is a sense of joy.  Just because we are engaging in acts of mortification, that does not necessarily mean that we have to look sour and dour.

With that in mind, I decided to break out some cheerful mineral makeup colors (including purple eyeshadow and apricot lip color), wear a bright lilac blouse and get my hair done.   I figured that I should at least find some tangible way of matching my makeup and wardrobe to the liturgical season (although my best friend thinks I am a liturgical geek for doing so). Some may call this vanity in the face of penance; however, I think that it actually fits in wtih the image that Jesus presents to us in today's Gospel account from St. Matthew. My late mother used to tell me that the worse I feel, the better I should look.   No one needs to see us practicing acts of penance.  We are not doing these for "show"; we are doing them out of love.  And the ash that my parochial vicar traced over my made-up forehead?  That is my visible sign of the invisible bond of unity that binds me to my fellow Catholics.

We are called to be penitent, but, not dour.  If we went around throughout these 40 days of Lent looking mournful and sullen, then we have missed the point of this holy season.  Yes, we need to have sorrow for our sins, but, we should find joy in the fact that God, in his merciful love, gives us this time to repent and make amends.   Reconciliation brings joy because through this atonement, we are on our way to becoming one again with God.

In today's second reading, St. Paul challenges us to be ambassadors of Christ.   As ambassadors, we are called to represent Christ and His Church.  There is joy in the message of Christ; that is why it is called the Good News.  Even the call for penance is Good News because it gives us the chance for purification, to shed that which leads us away from Christ so that we can belong entirely to Him. 

So, be cheerful this Lent.  Practice your particular Lenten regimen with the joyful hope that you are engaging in something that will help you strengthen your relationship with God.  I, for one, already have my wardrobe of purple eyeshadows and liners ready to coordinate with my violet outfits.   But, more importantly, I will try my best to interiorly live out my Lenten regimen so that I can actively engage in the Paschal Mystery with unbounded joy.